Build a Better Orientation: Prevent Melt Through Better Marketing

It’s true — students are still excited for the face-to-face interactions during first-year orientation! These valuable anti-melt events act as the final stage of transformation from high school caterpillar to college butterfly. They are designed to introduce students to administration beyond the admissions and financial aid office, to explain policies and procedures and to shake off any pre-college jitters.

But wait — your enrolled students aren’t registering. Maybe it’s time to change the way you’re driving them to sign-up. Throughout the recruitment cycle, the admissions office has likely been the primary contact for your incoming students and their families. Not all summer orientation programs are run through the admissions office — but that doesn’t mean their job is done. Everyone on campus needs to hold the door and keep it open to fruitfully yield the students you worked hard to enroll.

Step 1: Immediate Response

The orientation registration link should be embedded in social media posts, eye-catching on the landing page of your website and the main ingredient in your “Register Today” email campaigns. So now that we have that covered, what if your students have questions, concerns or comments about the program? As admissions representatives take the necessary R&R required to function for next year’s recruitment cycle, do your incoming students know who to contact for orientation-related issues?

All too often, summer melt happens due to a lack of immediate response. The phrase, “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” especially rings true in the summertime because some families may still be shopping around for the best deal. Don’t let these students cancel enrollment simply because they felt neglected. Orientation is an event focused on belonging, so your communication throughout the late spring into early summer months needs to reflect that emotion.

How can you do this?

  • Send home a brief, pre-orientation survey to find out how families are preparing.
  • Post videos and stories from last year’s orientation on your social media channels so that first-year students know what to expect.
  • Add an engaging, open-ended question to the end of each drive-to-register email campaign to get students (and their families) interacting.

Step 2: Targeted Communication

As you may know from evaluating thousands of applications this past cycle, no two students are the same. Strong communication means utilizing their data. While some students have concerns about housing and the campus cuisine, others are still figuring out how to pay for college. There are many factors that come into play when deciding on a new home for four years. It is your experienced staff that has the answers to all of their questions. After you have sent home a pre-orientation survey, have a segmented email campaign set up to address any concerns.

Other ways to target the right students:

  • Connect incoming students with orientation leaders, current students, the counseling office and specific professors by offering phone calls, text messages or email responses.
  • Send the right message to the right students by segmenting your list by student type, intended major, geographic location and extracurricular interests listed on the application.
  • Track their microsite interaction and see if they are following (and liking) the social media posts on orientation (if they aren’t connected, they should be).

 Step 3: Automated Messaging

Whether your institution runs a day- or week-long orientation program, some students are going to be late, confused and anxious about attending the life-changing event. From kindergarten through senior year of high school, many of your soon-to-be-students have always followed the same two rules: Listen to authority and follow the schedule.

The tone of orientation emails, blog posts, print pieces and text messages should be welcoming and fun.  But, you should still use the authority principle to get more students signed up for your event.

How to use a stronger tone in your communication:

  • Send home a letter to parents stressing the importance of the event.
  • Use words like, “mandatory,” “imperative” and “required” across all channels.
  • Ask the president, deans, professors and other authority figures on campus for testimonials about the event.
  • Set up an automated campaign with information about the schedule and emphasize the importance of being on time.

Step 4: Post-orientation Outreach

Well, that was easy. You had 100% of your incoming students show up. The weather was perfect. And you met younger brothers and sisters who are already starting their applications for next year (optimism is key)!

Now is the time to combine the first three steps:

  • Send home post-orientation surveys and automated, targeted email campaigns.
  • Ask students to submit images and videos by creating social media contests.
  • Respond as fast as possible to any questions or concerns and ask about contact preference (students, professors, orientation staff).

Here’s to your best event yet!